researching colleges

Juniors, Rest, Relax, and Research

Juniors, as you head into winter break, our advice is to relax, rest, and enjoy family and friends. Continue researching schools during your downtime. And as friends return home from their first year at college, have some conversations with them about their experiences -- both about college and the application process. Happy holidays!

FairTest's Updated List of Test-Optional Schools

There's a lot of talk about testing at the moment -- the SAT and ACT have just been administered and results of the PSAT arrive soon. But remember that today there are hundreds of four-year colleges that have deemphasized ACT and SAT scores in making their admission decisions. And the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) has updated and redesigned their listing of the more than 800 schools with test-optional policies.

"To make our list even more useful," says FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer, "FairTest rechecked requirements at all the schools. At the same time, we eliminated multiple listings of those that maintain several campuses. For applicants who care about rankings, it is worth noting that nearly 150 colleges and universities on our test-optional list rank in the top tier of their respective academic categories."

Students can find the free comprehensive list of these schools online here at  National universities on the list include Wake Forest, New York University, Arizona State University, Kansas State University, University of Texas at Austin, and DePaul University. And national liberal arts colleges include Dickinson College, Bryn Mawr, Augustana, Middlebury, Hamilton, Mount Holyoke, and Pitzer College.

Juniors: Researching Yourself and the Colleges

Last week, we asked you to start evaluating your academic record as you begin to work on your initial list of colleges. As you continue to "research yourself," here are some questions to ask about how you learn. This is important because college is a learning environment, and you need to honestly evaluate yourself as a student in order to figure out what schools are best for you.

Again, keep in mind that there are no "right" answers. You're just mining for information. Here are some questions to give you a start:

Are you happiest when you are (a) significantly challenged and must be ever energetic in your efforts to keep up; (b) growing along with the rest of your classmates; or (c) learning while comfortably at the top of your class?

Are there any circumstances, such as a learning disability, that have impacted your academic performance?

What has been the best learning environment for you— a large lecture class or a small discussion group?

Is it important to you to have close relationships with your teachers?

What kind of schedule is best for you?

Students, What are your VIPS?

Today's column is from independent counselor Eric Dobler. Read on to learn what students need to know about themselves as they start thinking about colleges.


 “What are you thinking about majoring in and why?”

This is a question I love asking students.  It appears to be a very simple question on the surface, but can get at something much deeper. While some students are very undecided and have no idea what they want to do (which is okay – really, it is), most are able to talk about one or more ideas they have. They want to major in engineering or nursing. They want to be a teacher or go into business. They have a feeling for something but they’re not entirely sure why.

And regardless of whether they have an idea or not, the table has been set to explore what I call their VIPS – Values, Interests, Personality-Style and Skills. These are the attributes students need to explore and understand better in order to have a successful college admission experience. Yet most students lack an awareness of their VIPS. This is never clearer than in conversation with current college freshmen who say, “I’m not happy.” When I start asking questions to get to the root of the matter, the same themes pop up:

They don’t know what really matters to them.

They haven’t thought about how their skills and abilities match with their major.

They don’t understand what careers or skills a particular major will afford them.

Juniors: More Resources for Your College Search


Last week, we posted the objective guidebooks that we recommend as you research the colleges for your initial list of schools. For this week, here are the subjective guidebooks we recommend. These books provide basic information about schools, including information on acceptance rates, cost and enrollment. But they also "review" colleges and universities the way critics review movies. Using feedback and input from students, faculty, alumni, high school college counselors and others, the information in these books weaves fact and opinion about the student body, athletics, academics, social life, physical setting, dorms and other aspects of campus life.

The books listed here are available in most bookstores, public libraries and the office of your high school college or guidance counselors.  Websites are available to everyone free of charge.


The Best 371 Colleges, Princeton Review

Big Book of Colleges, College Prowler

Juniors: Resources for Your College Search


There are many resources available to you as you research schools in order to create an initial list of colleges to which you may apply -- guidebooks, brochures, blogs, websites and even YouTube videos.

Here are the objective guidebooks and websites we recommend -- these are comprehensive reference resources for basic information about colleges and universities. The books listed here are available in most bookstores, public libraries and the office of your high school college or guidance counselors.  Websites are available to everyone free of charge.


College HandbookThe College Board
Four Year CollegesPeterson’s
Four Year College Admissions Data: Index of Majors and Sports available from Wintergreen Orchard House